The City of Gardens (1735-1850)
The Safavid City
While there is little material evidence of pre-19th-century Tbilisi remaining, we intend to study travel writings of the early modern era, historical documentation of urban and horticultural practices of the Persianate world and the Safavid-era Persian poetry of allegorical and real gardens, which are also typical of the literature of "Old Tbilisi." This early-modern archive will then be juxtaposed alongside images of the actual gardens of Tbilisi found in the 19th-century archive. It will be our thesis that the “Oriental” city was appropriated in the colonial era on the basis of soundscapes centered on the vestigial gardens of the destroyed Safavid city, rather than the architectural cityscape of the winding streets, balconies and bazaars of the old city that typify later construals of "Old Tbilisi".
The Romantic “City of Gardens”: Tbilisi around the time of Russian conquest
Russian colonial Tbilisi of the nineteenth century had inherited from the ruins of Safavid to Qajar period Tbilisi (Tiflis) more than anything else a complex network of gardens which which ringed the city, described in the 18th century, in much the same way as Isfahan, as "a city ringed by the gardens of paradise". But these gardens, which are the central theme of urban poetry, are virtually ignored in the existing literature on "Old Tbilisi" (Grishashvili 1928, Shaqulashvili 1986). Here we situate the "city garden" ecology of Tbilisi and its specifically urban literature, with its emblematic urban figures, the happy-go-lucky kinto ("street peddler") with respect to literatures on the material and semiotic features of (a) the "typical" Middle eastern city (Abu Lughod 1987), (b) the distinctively Safavid Persian "city garden" model, with its distinctive chahārbāgh ("four-part garden") and khiyābān ("tree-lined avenue") features instantiated in both the garden and urban design of Isfahan, real urban gardens which also served as figurations of paradise (Pindar-Wilson 1985, Walcher 1997, Emrani 2013), and (c) the purely allegorical gardens of much Persian poetry (Meirami 1985), along with the equally allegorical "lowlife" "inspired libertine" citydwellers of Sufi poetry (rind) (Lewisohn 2010, Ilahi-Ghomsei 2010). Here we ask the following questions: How does the existing "city garden" complex of 18th century Tbilisi compare with similar complexes in Isfahan both in terms of internal design and overall relation to the city? How are the largely allegorical gardens and urban characters (rind) of Persian poetry transformed into real gardens and real urbanites (kintos), transforming a largely mystical literature into an ethnographic literature expressing an urban sensibility? To what extent do the mystical and allegorical connotations of gardens and rind in Persian literature inform the poetry of Old Tbilisi: How does the happy-go-lucky philosophy of the kinto compare to Sufi antecedents?